Okay, so you've taken some digital photographs ? How do you get them from the camera onto your computer?

An easy way to download photos is to connect the camera directly to the PC using the supplied USB cable, though this consumes your camera battery power more quickly. Card readers offer either a single slot for one type of card, or several for most or all formats. The latter is a better choice if there’s a chance you may change cameras at a later date.

Docking stations can be left permanently attached to your PC. When the camera is attached they both download the images and charge the battery.

Every digital camera comes with a cable in the box for connecting the camera to your PC. This will almost certainly be a USB cable, since USB has become an almost universal method of connecting external devices to PCs and Macs. One end of the cable goes into a spare USB port on the PC, while the other (usually smaller) plug goes into the camera. When the camera is switched on, its icon will mount on the desktop, and files can be copied onto the computer’s hard drive.

Depending on the operating system in use, the software that came with the camera (which you have to install first) and the preferences set, you may get a dialogue box asking you if you want to download the images, as well as other options.

The majority of digital cameras now offer USB 2.0 transfer, which is many times faster than USB 1.0, as long as your computer supports it, while pro DSLRs may offer Firewire instead of USB, which is faster still.

Card readers
The problem with using USB to download your pictures is that it consumes your camera’s battery power, and may even drain it in the time it takes to download a card full of images. You also have a fiddly cable to deal with, which may involve going round the back of your PC.

A card reader is a simple, elegant solution. These inexpensive devices are small and take up little room on the desk. Leave them permanently connected to your PC and, to download your images, simply take the card out of the camera, pop it into the slot on the reader and an icon should mount on the PC desktop. Copy as normal.

For a small premium, multi-card readers feature several slots for various (if not all) types of card – useful if you use more than one camera or are likely to change or update it for a new one. As with the other methods for downloading pictures, you may have to install software before using one, depending on your computer’s operating system.

Docking stations

Docking stations (also known as camera docks or cradles) are among the best ideas that have come out of the digital arena, though only a handful of manufacturers supply them.

A dock is essentially a hub that you leave permanently connected to your PC (via USB). Your camera slots snugly onto the dock and over the protruding contacts which slide up inside the camera. By pressing a button the dock then automatically copies all your image files from the camera onto the PC – usually straight into your ‘My Pictures’ folder in Windows, unless you tell it otherwise. You have the option to delete the card after downloading, or not.

But that isn’t all. The dock also recharges the camera battery for as long as it’s attached. Most dock users leave the camera on the dock when not in use so that it’s always charged when it’s needed.
Docks may require the installation of some software when you first use them, but this is a once only job, and is easy to do.